Bakuman is often criticized for its misogynist undertones and from the first episode it was clear that the show’s portrayal of women was odd. But what is the source of Tsugumi Ohba’s low opinion of women? I believed that the Misogynist vibe in Bakuman is rooted in the Japanese work ethic and comes from the intense pressure to succeed. The success of Mashiro and Miho’s relationship in Bakuman is dependent on their individual career success. In essence, Bakuman is removing the emotional element from relationships and basing them on status alone. While that is true at the core of the problem it seems that the blame may rest directly on the author.
Women are portrayed as obstacles in the path of men who are trying to reach their goals. In the most direct sense, Moritaka’s mother refused to allow him access to his Uncle’s studio and refused to accept his dream of becoming a Mangaka. It was his Father and Grandfather who stepped in and insisted that he be allowed to pursue his dream, telling the mother that some things “men have to do that woman can’t understand”. This applies also to romantic relationships and why Miho is set up as the ideal woman. Miho also has a goal she is trying to accomplish, and no other woman in the series seems to share her values. She wants to put off their relationship knowing that it would get in the way of her dream of becoming a voice actress. The “normal” girl is shown during a scene when a young girl chases her boyfriend to the roof chastising him the entire way for changing his High School of choice. She is upset because they won’t be together. This is what Ohba sees as the normal girl, chasing after a boy and having no goals of her own. The action of the young man is what the author acknowledges as the correct choice, personal progress over romance.
What becomes the enemy in Bakuman are laziness, sloth, and complacency. Relationships are portrayed as wastes of time and energy. Moritaka doesn’t have time to go see a movie because he uses every bit of his free time perfecting his skill as a mangaka. Akito’s relationship with Miyoshi becomes the model for what relationships can do to one’s time, energy, and goals. At the start of their relationship she constantly tries to take Akito away from his work in order to go to spend time with her. Most of the time Akito refuses and Miyoshi is left upset, but slowly she begins to understand what Akito and Moritaka are trying to do. Unfortunately, this leads to the most condescending portion of the series.
Miyoshi becomes jealous of all her friend having goals except for her, so she decides one day she is going to be a writer. Her decision comes from the desire to fit in; the group has Mangaka and a voice actress but no prose writer; not from the desire to actually become a successful writer. She decides to write Miho and Moritaka’s story instead of coming up with an original idea and not knowing where to begin she enlists Akito for help. Instead of Akito working on his own story, he ends up helping Miyoshi with her romance novel and, in fact, writes the whole thing. She becomes excited for herself when the first part of the novel becomes a success and takes all the credit. Miyoshi displays no personal motivation; she enjoys the end result of hard work. She is the antithesis of Miho, Moritaka, and Akito. The dream ends when Akito refuses to write the next part of ‘her’ successful cellphone novel. She tries but quickly gives up writing it herself, changing her dream to be the same as Akito’s dream. Her ‘goal’ in life becomes that Akito and Moritaka become famous Mangaka, showing she has no aspirations of her own and has to live in the shadow of her boyfriend. After Miyoshi realizes she almost broke up her boyfriend’s team she goes from being bitter that Akito doesn’t have time to spend with her and jealous of Moritaka and Miho’s dream, she gives up and becomes a cheerleader for them. She is content to be in the background getting tea and making meals for the hard-working Mangaka. She is happy to fall into a domestic role after Akito promises to marry her, which reveals her only true aspiration to be marriage, everything else being a method of getting Akito to notice her.
Miyoshi’s role in the story says a lot about Ohba’s view towards women. It is comparable to his Death Note character Misa. Misa initially begins her own Death Note fueled rampage in order to get Kira’s attention, but once Kira pretends to be in a relationship with her she becomes completely obedient to him. Akito’s mother also follows this pattern, while she is a successful school teacher her husband losing her job breaks her, almost cripples her emotionally. She decides to channel the disappointment in her husband into her children, pushing them hard so they don’t fail. Instead of picking herself up and focusing on her career, she relied on her husband to create a stable household. It seems that Ohba’s view on women is that they only show initiative to attract men. The obvious way this is portrayed in both Death Note and Bakuman suggests this might be a conscious bit of social criticism; however it is more likely that he just can’t write female characters in any other way. Nothing is known about the Mangaka’s personal life, if he is married or in a relationship, the most the public knows is that he collects teacups and “develops manga plots while holding his knees on a chair.” Whether his opinions on women come from bitterness or ignorance may never be answered definitively but the blankly negative female character he has written makes the answer a bit obvious. There is, of course, one exception to his negative female characters. The heroine of Bakuman, Miho, is written as the ideal woman.
I’ve already stated some reasons why Miho is the ideal woman in the series. I will restate some of that and build on top of it here, because Miho is the antithesis of every other woman in Bakuman, for positive and negative reasons. Unlike the other women in Bakuman Miho actually has a personal goal, she wants to become a voice actress and even though she is meek and shy she is pushing forward with that dream no matter what it takes. In that respect she is equal to Moritaka and superior to any other woman in the show. She is the ideal girlfriend in that she stays out of the way, she doesn’t ask to be taken out, and she doesn’t get involved with Moritaka’s business. She remains on the sidelines as a silent cheerleader. She only contacts Moritaka when she actually has something to say, mostly congratulate him, and she never brags about her own accomplishments. She is also extremely loyal and in love with Moritaka without any real reason to be loyal or in love with him. She is his fantasy girl and all he has to do is become a Mangaka, which was his childhood fantasy, and she will marry him.
Bakuman is about a Mangaka, and in order to be happy the Mangaka has to create a successful manga. It is clear that Miho is the ideal woman for Ohba and that every other woman in the series represents Ohba’s narrow view of woman and that he, as a successful mangaka, should have found true love. While it is unusual to make assumptions on the author’s personality from a piece of fiction I think Bakuman is an exception. It is, after all, a story written about Ohba’s profession that combined with the consistency of his female characters. Bakuman is the result of an author constructing a fantasy in which he can be the hero and get the girl as an author. If we take the experiences of Akito and Moritaka as true reflections of Ohba’s life; working to become Mangaka to the exclusion of all else; Ohba might be the teacup collecting lonely writer that his only existing bio makes him out to be. To the end Bakuman is the fantasy of a man who has dedicated himself, with the vigor of a Japanese businessman, to his art and never had time to find someone to love.